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"Games Due for a Lit Course": Games and Writing at Next Generation

Discussion in 'Game/SP News & Comments' started by Tiamat, Jun 10, 2007.

  1. Tiamat Gems: 17/31
    Latest gem: Star Diopside

    Jul 9, 2001
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    As video games and the associated technology have gotten progressively more sophisticated, it sometimes seems like the emphasis on flashy graphics has overriden all other concerns, such as an enjoyable narrative and well-written dialogue. This connection between games and writing is explored in an interesting article at Next Generation.

    Look to our history, though, and numerous games exist that have prompted us to cast around for literary compatriots; games whose writers have managed to walk the line between screenplay and novel to create eloquent games that capture our attention as readers, as well as gamers. Games have an enormous set of tools at their disposal for absorbing us: and they often do, through their visual detail, the depth of their worlds, their art or cinematic direction or their beguiling playability; but what of those that absorb us with their articulacy?

    Deus Ex was itself an enormous step forwards for the integration of writing with interactivity and, to an extent, cinematic technique. The literarily significant games that directly preceded it – predominantly, Interplay’s impressively consistent output of and superbly written, text-centric PC RPGs – had to rely perhaps more on the quality of their writing to flesh out and embellish their settings and gameplay. Scott Bennie worked with Black Isle Studios, responsible for the Fallout series and Planescape: Torment, as a writer on the original Fallout game. “Writing was a big deal at Interplay even before I joined the company,” he says. “Each generation of Interplay games featured good writing for their times, particularly in our RPGs and adventures. Working in a place where the writing was considered an important factor provided the groundwork for Fallout. Compared to companies that did shooters and felt that writing and story got in the way, [the emphasis on writing] was huge.”

    It might appear, however, that the best examples of videogame writing are all in the past. Such a writing-centric environment, it appears, was massively conducive to the development of games that are now considered literary milestones. Almost every game of the era whose writing was in some way notable, from Fallout to Icewind Dale to Baldur’s Gate, involved Black Isle Studios’ input. The studio made a point of hiring experienced writers, especially those involved in paper-and-pencil RPGs. Avellone thinks that this was crucial to the studio’s success in the area. “If you’ve done game writing for any length of time, it allows you to avoid common clichés,” he says. “I also think a number of Black Isle designers had written long enough to find their ‘voice,’ which definitely paid off.”

    It might appear, however, that the best examples of videogame writing are all in the past. Black Isle Studios is long defunct, though many of its staff (Avellone included) have made the transition to Obsidian Entertainment. Planescape and Deus Ex seem to have no modern counterparts, and though videogame storytelling has continued to progress and develop, writing, in a narrative sense, has become considerably less important as text has become a less integral part of games. And as games rely increasingly on their visuals to get their messages across, we are becoming increasingly conscious of something lacking in their writing and dialogue; next to Fallout’s bleak, affecting narration, so many prettier modern settings feel so very empty. Perhaps technical limitations create a greater emphasis upon well-implemented writing in games; perhaps good writing was, to some extent, a product of the era.

    Read the rest of the article here.
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